Coughs ring out like gunshots in a post-war zone. Everyone is on edge and your instinct is to be suspicious of anyone that gets near you. A visit to the grocery store feels like a scene from Mission Impossible. Get in. Keep a safe distance. Get the goods. Don’t touch more than you have to. And whatever you do, don’t sneeze.
Everyone knows they shouldn’t be afraid, but the fear isn’t only on the surface anymore. It’s burrowed down deep. Like Batman, we have become our fear. We have owned this panic as our own. Coronavirus Man, however, is a superhero no one wants.
I’ve had a cold through all of this. I hold in my coughs like one might have buried their wealth during the cultural revolution. If I were to let one go, I fear the scornful accusations of those around me. Like I’d get put away with all the others.
Even a visit to the drug store for a bottle of cough syrup prompted a temperature check, registering my cell phone number and proof of identification. I nearly hyperventilated through my mask just from the interrogation by the cashier. I sat at home that night too afraid to even open the bottle. I awaited a visit from disease control, half-expecting to be hauled away to a quarantine zone.
I am so thankful for the fact that my son is only three years old. He has no grasp of what is going on. He’s not afraid of coronavirus or people from Wuhan. He’s only afraid of spinach and bedtime, and maybe the sharks from Finding Nemo. But what about all the other kids out there, tens of millions of them, stuck in their homes all day for the last two weeks. They’ve been told that the outside world is too dangerous, that they must wear masks over their face if they don’t want to get sick. Some going as far as to put plastic bags over the heads of their children or covering them in cut out 20-liter plastic water containers.
These kids are not scientists—for the most part, neither are their parents. They aren’t thinking about viral loads and transmission rates. They aren’t thinking about the comparative scale of swine flu from 2009. They aren’t thinking about how death rates for this virus outside of Hubei are presently less than that of seasonal influenza. For them, it is the outside world that is a big, scary, contaminated cloud that they and their families have to protect themselves against.
We have made an entire generation into germaphobes. Every apartment in China is now cleaner than it’s ever been. Partly out of boredom and partly out of this germ-free lifestyle everyone has subscribed to. Government statements have gone as far as to warn against using too much disinfecting alcohol in your home for fear of starting fires. That is how far people are going to shelter themselves. And the paranoia will linger long after China pulls through this.
Business too will feel the lasting impact. The losses that this virus (especially the response to the virus) has reaped upon our little restaurant is far more than we could have ever prepared for. But we are still among the lucky ones. We will recover and we will dig ourselves out of this hole. Tens of thousands of other businesses out there won’t be so fortunate.
When the virus does finally die off, the economic and sociological consequences will remain. The question now is, for how long?